This week saw the release of the 2020 Wrestling Observer Awards.
Predictably, the winners were heavily skewed towards AEW. This is completely understandable given the demographic of those that vote for these awards is pretty much the exact segment of the wrestling fanbase that AEW markets towards. It was always going to be thus.
Let’s be completely clear: These awards are perfectly valid as they are voted on by the Observer readers. That said, that readership is skewed towards a segment of the fanbase with a very narrow idea of what good professional wrestling is.
But what if these awards were voted for by a more representational cross-section of fans? What if people who like the entertainment side also put their say forward? In many cases, the winners would be the same. But in some, the results would be wildly different.
We’ve presented an alternative list of winners below that we think would better reflect the views of the broad spectrum of fans in the wrestling world. Let’s be clear, in many cases we have picked an alternative that clearly would come second to the actual winner no matter who you asked. But it woudn’t be a very fun opinion piece if we just parroted the actual winner on behalf of them would it?
Oh and by the way, we haven’t included any of the MMA categories or had any of their promotions or stars eligible to win general awards. Because the idea of assessing MMA and wrestling against the same awards criteria is utterly ridiculous and laughable, and as with most of you readers we understand comparing the two would be like judging the merits of an apple pie against a traffic cone.
Here we go:
Lou Thesz/Ric Flair Award (Wrestler Of The Year)
Actual Winner: Jon Moxley
Alternative Winner: Drew McIntyre
Jon Moxley? A good wrestler who, let’s be honest, relies far too much on gimmicks and hardcore elements in all of his truly compelling bouts. The idea of comparing his ethos of wresting with the men this award is named after is, frankly, insulting.
What about Drew McIntyre? A true throwback of a babyface wrestler that manages to come across as strong, credible and likeable without resorting to usual WWE main event babyface cheesiness. The man puts on bouts that feel like proper wrestlers wrestling in wrestling matches and never has to resort to plunder to get people behind him.
The man managed to make himself into a brand new main event level franchise babyface star in the middle of a pandemic without any fans in attendance for goodness sake! If any of us sleep on that achievement then we maybe need to give our heads a wobble.
Most Outstanding Wrestler
Actual Winner: Kenny Omega
Alternative Winner: Daniel Bryan
In truth, the Observer readers are spot on here. Omega had a cracking year in the ring, without ever honestly threatening to accomplish as much as he had in previous years. But an alternative would be Daniel Bryan. An easy, safe choice, but a fair one. Bryan’s best days are commonly thought to be behind him but the man has put on cracking matches on TV and PPV throughout the year with opponents ranging from The Fiend to Drew Gulak and Jey Uso. The pick of the bunch is of course the final of the Intercontinental Championship tournament against AJ Styles on SmackDown. Truly a wonderful, wonderful match and one made all the more special by the fact that they managed to have it in a warehouse with the only fan in attendance being one that whirs in the ceiling to cool the guys in the ring down.
As an aside, why on earth do we need two separate wrestler of the year awards? One for workrate and one for….being a star? What’s that all about?
Tag Team Of The Year
Actual Winner: The Young Bucks
Alternative Winner: The Golden Role Models
This one is a pavlovian response amongst this fanbase. Tag team of the year? Have The Bucks been active? It’s them then. Call it a reflex, call it a bias, call it whatever you want but it is clear as day (in many ways) that these guys have successfully cultivated a group of fans who see it as their duty to support them in every way they can without giving a second’s thought to reality. They’ve won six of the last seven awards. It would have been a clean sweep but they barely wrestled in 2019.
The winner here is The Golden Role Models. They had cracking matches as a team and in singles, and carried a division through its stickiest patch in history. They constantly had a purpose and a focus (and no, just having good matches doesn’t count as a purpose) and their storyline culminated in a great, satisfying blow off.
Best On Interviews
Actual Winner: Eddie Kingston
Alternative Winner: Seth Rollins
Another category with the actual winner being comfortably the best choice. Kingston has stood out with his intense, real diatribes in a year that has been understandably light on quality promos. It’s hard to really cut a great promo with no fans to play off, isn’t it? But let’s give due props to Seth Rollins too. A man who turned himself from the blandest of babyface characters (and I use the word character loosely. What even was he supposed to represent?) into a genuinely compelling heel, mainly through his sermonic, self-absorbed promos. Genuinely great stuff. Now as for that eye for an eye nonsense…
Promotion Of The Year
Actual Winner: AEW
Alternative Winner: All Of Them
In a year with unparalleled challenges, every single promotion that has found a way to continue pumping out content without ripping off paying fans deserves huge credit. Sure, many have taken steps that have been worthy of criticism but equally, different promotions at different levels have different challenges to overcome and varying parameters in which they must operate.
Surely, in the spirit of togetherness, 2020 is the year when we cast aside petty allegiances and just commend the wrestling business as a whole for making it through the year.
Weekly Programme Of The Year
Actual Winner: AEW Dynamite
Alternative Winner: NXT
Let’s be honest, you’re picking one of the Wednesday Night War battalions aren’t you? They are both head and shoulders above Raw and SmackDown at the moment and your pick comes down to personal taste more than anything. Dynamite is a completely worthy winner, as is NXT. Both have offered a mix of great matches and compelling stories all year and are 1A and 1B in our watch list for the week.
Match Of The Year
Actual Winner: The Young Bucks vs. Adam Page and Kenny Omega at AEW Revolution 2020
Alternative Winner: Daniel Bryan vs. AJ Styles, Intercontinental Championship Tournament Final
The Observer winners have picked a tremendous match as their winner and this writer wouldn’t presume to argue with it. In fact, in our own ‘HOWIE Awards‘ at the end of 2020, it was exactly the match I picked. But for the sake of balance, I present you Styles vs. Bryan on SmackDown, right slap-bang in the middle of the darkest hour of the pandemic. Two men, no gimmicks, no short-cuts, no fans. Just two men putting on a hugely compelling match against all the odds. An absolute clinic and one that will be essential learning for any aspiring wrestler in the future.
Actual Winner: Jon Moxley
Alternative Winner: Drew McIntyre
Well seeing as this is just the same as the Wrestler Of The Year award, we presume we just have to make the same pick here? OK, gotcha. McIntyre it is then.
Actual Winner: Tetsuya Naito
Alternative Winner: Kota Ibushi
Along with the award below, this is about the most clear cut award in the whole selection. Unlike in the USA, events in Japan came to a screeching halt for most of the year. However, the truncated period that we got belonged to Tetsuya Naito without question.
Actual Winner: Rey Fenix
Alternative Winner: Pentagon Jr.
Right, we’re not going to pretend to be the be all and end all in Mexican wrestling knowledge. It’s not like we watched much Mexican output in 2020 but neither did the majority of the voters on this award. They just picked their favourite Luchador so we will do the same!
Actual Winner: WALTER
Alternative Winner: Null & Void
What can we say? Very little happened in British wrestling of any note in 2020, not in the ring anyway. Sure, WALTER probably wins by default but it seems such a pointless award to give this year so as an alternative, let’s not.
Hodge Award/Non-Heavyweight MVP
Actual Winner: Hiromu Takahashi
Alternative Winner: Kyle O’Reilly
The man absolutely brought it in 2020 didn’t he! Tremendous matches in singles and tags, with his TakeOver 31 match against Finn Balor being the standout. This was O’Reilly’s breakout year and one that gives him such a platform for 2021.
Women’s Wrestling MVP
Actual Winner: Bayley
Alternative Winner: Sasha Banks
There’s just no disputing that this award is going to someone under the WWE umbrella but there are a few candidates. Bayley is a worthy winner but surely Sasha Banks is neck and neck, with Asuka not too, too far behind. In NXT, let’s not forget about Io Shirai, whose title reign was a steadying presence in a fantastic but transitional women’s division.
Best Box Office Draw
Actual Winner: Conor McGregor
Alternative Winner: Jon Moxley
Whilst you’re not going to hear any argument against Conor McGregor being an enormous box office here, the idea of comparing wrestling and MMA just baffles this writer. One is a sport, one isn’t. One has a schedule of weekly shows and network specials, one has seemingly endless special events across various platforms. Two different mediums, two completely different business models and you would have to be fairly narrow of mind to think they’re comparable enough to bundle into one set of awards.
Let’s go with Jon Moxley. A man who has been in the main event of most PPVs this year from a company establishing themselves in the wrestling landscape. He’s become a big match draw with his title defences on 2020 PPVs built up as genuine ‘happenings’.
Feud Of The Year
Actual Winners: Jon Moxley vs. Eddie Kingston
Alternative Winners: Sasha Banks vs. Bayley
Kingston and Moxley had a cracking little feud. Sasha Banks and Bayley had a wonderful, well written, patiently built, well paid off scorcher of a feud. Sorry Observer readers, you lot got this one well wrong.
Actual Winner: Britt Baker
Alternative Winner: Roman Reigns
So Britt Baker wins this? Cool. So we’re rating it on improvement in character rather than in ring skills then? That’s valid. But if that’s the case, there is only one possible winner. It’s Roman Reigns. From loathed, boring babyface to heel with off the charts charisma and nuclear heat almost in one stroke. This isn’t even close. How can Baker get close to this award given the gigantic forward strides Reigns has finally taken?
Actual Winner: MJF
Alternative Winner: Orange Cassidy
It would be a brave writer to argue against MJF taking this one. The kid has clearly got charisma to burn and just looks so comfortable in his heel skin that’s it’s almost impossible to believe he is still in his early 20s. But allow me to make a case for Orange Cassidy. Charisma comes in many forms and Cassidy deserves enormous credit for building such a following with a character that does so little. He can get more of a reaction with less actual action than almost any wrestler in the world today. It truly is a sight to behold how much he can say whilst saying and doing so little. Charisma isn’t always about catchphrases and put downs.
Bryan Danielson Daniel Bryan Award (Best Technical Wrestler)
Actual Winner: Zack Sabre Jr.
Alternative Winner: Pete Dunne
We love Zack Sabre Jr. Everyone should love Zack Sabre Jr. But is he the best technical wrestler in the world? Quite possibly. But in a world where Pete Dunne exists, that will always be up for debate. Dunne has come back to NXT and inserted himself right at the top of the card without missing a step. He’s every bit his countryman’s equal in terms of in-ring mastery, but manages to imbue his technical work with, in many’s opinion, a much more effective layer of danger that translates into a more compelling overall performer.
Bruiser Brody Memorial Award (Best Brawler)
Actual Winner: Jon Moxley
Alternative Winner: Tomohiro Ishii
Well we wouldn’t want to tell Ishii he isn’t the best brawler on the planet, would you? Here’s an idea: let these two fight it out for the title. We will bring the popcorn, you bring the sofa for us all to hide behind, OK?
Best Flying Wrestler
Actual Winner: Rey Fenix
Alternative Winner: Will Ospreay
Whilst the Brit is much more grounded nowadays, there is still nobody on the planet better when he takes to the skies.
Actual Winner: Bray Wyatt
Alternative Winner: Cody Rhodes
What’s his speciality? What aspects of pro-wrestling would you rank Cody in the top 5 in AEW? We’re not saying he’s bad. He’s good at lots of things. But what makes him stand out as a main eventer? Answers on a postcard…
Actual Winner: Ricochet
Alternative Winner: Serena Deeb
Simply put, one of the absolute best female wrestlers on the planet over the last 15 years. Finally she’s getting a modicum of the praise she deserves but it is just a modicum. She deserves to be held in the same regard as the most highly rated on the scene.
Rookie Of The Year
Actual Winner: Pat McAfee
Alternative Winner: Dominik Mysterio
Not many wrestlers have their very first professional match on a major PPV against a former multiple time world champion. Even fewer make it look like they’ve been doing it for years! Mysterio surprised the world by operating at such a high level so quickly and as good as McAfee has been, this should be Dominik’s prize.
Actual Winner: Taz
Alternative Winner: Paul Heyman
Would it be cruel to nominate Bo Dallas? It would? OK… Whether it be as Brock Lesnar’s advocate, The Tribal Chief’s special counsel or the co-host of Talking Smack, Heyman adds more to the presentation of professional wrestling than any other person who doesn’t lace up a pair of boots. Taz has been really good. He hasn’t come close to Heyman’s level.
Actual Winner: Excalibur
Alternative Winner: Nigel McGuinness
Don’t sleep on McGuiness because most of his work was on NXT UK. Yes, he got less exposure than many of his peers this year (damn pandemic!) but he is so far ahead of his competition that maybe he only needs a fraction of their exposure?
Actual Winner: Michael Cole
Alternative Winner: Jim Ross
Please don’t hate us but Jim Ross has understandably lost a step. Let’s be fair, the guy has been the absolute best for years but he’s quite simply not at that level anymore. It happens to the best of us but when you are the best in history at what you do, the drop off is more noticeable. We adore you JR, but please leave us with the memories soon.
Best Major Wrestling Show
Actual Winner: AEW Revolution PPV on February 29 from Chicago
Alternative Winner: NXT Halloween Havoc
Unashamedly a personal choice. Revolution was awesome but Halloween Havoc was one of the most fun, unique, exciting wrestling shows in years. It took pride in being goofy and lent in to that to add to the presentation rather than being held down by it. We just loved it so much.
Worst Major Wrestling Show
Actual Winner: WWE Super ShowDown on February 27 from Saudi Arabia
Alternative Winner: WrestleMania 36
In this writer’s eyes, for many reasons, we wish the footage for this event could be placed in a lead lined box and dropped to the bottom of a volcano. Look, it wasn’t WWE’s fault but at the end of the day, this was a bunch of somewhat random, mostly poor, all pre-recorded wrestling matches in an empty warehouse with no sound and a giant WrestleMania sign propped up against the wall. It represents the absolute nadir of the world going to hell and I hope I never have to watch a second of it ever again. And that is meant with complete and utter sincerity.
Best Wrestling Maneuver
Actual Winner: Kenny Omega’s One Winged Angel
Alternative Winner: Drew McIntyre’s Claymore
One Winged Angel? Again? Well, yeah… Ok. The sheer definition of a reflex pick. The Claymore is a superb wrestling move. Incredibly safe, high impact, versatile, explosive… A perfect main event finisher.
Most Disgusting Promotional Tactic
Actual Winner: WWE firing people during a pandemic during a year where they were setting profit records
Alternative Winner: Allowing Matt Hardy to continue after smashing his head into concrete
OK, WWE didn’t cover themselves in glory with the mass release on April 20th. Of course they didn’t. In hindsight, it’s a poor look. But it pales next to allowing Matt Hardy to wrestle on after splattering his head on concrete. If you build your brand on wrestler well-being and then when you get your first chance to prove that at a moment when it will harm your live show by sticking to your principles, you absolutely have to get that call right. AEW didn’t and sadly it puts a massive asterisk against all their claims of putting wrestlers well-being first.
Worst TV Show
Actual Winner: WWE RAW
Alternative Winner: AEW Dark
What on earth are they thinking by creating an overlong show filled with little story and unknown talents? How can this possi…..
Oh who am I kidding? I can’t keep this up. It’s totally Raw.
Worst Match Of The Year
Actual Winner: Braun Strowman vs. “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt – Swamp Fight from The Horror Show at Extreme Rules
Alternative Winner: Goldberg vs. The Fiend, WWE Super ShowDown
Cinematic matches are set pieces. They’re not wrestling matches. They can be entertaining, they can be awful but they can’t be compared to wrestling matches so we won’t be voting got one as worst wrestling match. Instead, the Universal Championship match in Saudi Arabia gets the nod here. Not only was it an appalling experience but it also destroyed The Fiend’s character which has yet to even come close to being rehabilitated.
Worst Feud Of The Year
Actual Winner: Bray Wyatt vs. Braun Strowman
Alternative Winner: The Street Profits vs. The Viking Raiders
Giant ninjas? Garbage monsters…. Get outta town! This was just an abomination in every single way.
Worst Promotion Of The Year
Actual Winner: WWE
Alternative Winner: N/A
Not this year. There are far too many extenuating circumstances than to ‘crown’ a worst promotion. Thinking about it, why does an ‘awards’ show even feel the need to award ‘worst’ of anything anyway? Odd…
Actual Winner: Tony Khan
Alternative Winner: Scott D’Amore
We will reserve judgement on Tony Khan’s booking until we see AEW hit a sticky patch. Who’s actually running the show there booking wise? It is TK? Or is it a massive group effort? Without meaning to sound all hipster, Impact have opened a lot of eyes this year in terms of putting on genuinely good wrestling programming with a limited roster.
Promoter Of The Year
Actual Winner: Tony Khan
Alternative Winner: Howard Meij
And why not? He and his team capitalised in the blossoming global popularity of Wrestle Kingdom by making it a two day extravaganza. They made sensible steps in bringing back their biggest events mid-pandemic in a measured and sensible way. It’s worth a thought?
Actual Winner: Orange Cassidy
Alternative Winner: The Dark Order
It’s my column and if I want to use a pick to remember just how awesome Jon Huber was and how he was genuinely turning round a dead duck of a faction then I will do just that.
Actual Winner: ‘The Fiend’ Bray Wyatt
Alternative Winner: ‘The Best Man’ Miro
Be careful what you wish for. I am an enormous fan of Miro, one of many who thought he was hugely underused in WWE. But this is the gimmick he chose to use after being given more freedom? Oh yikes! Maybe time to circle Rusev Day in the calendar again.
Best Pro-Wrestling Book
Actual Winner: The Young Bucks: Killing the Business from the Backyards to the Big Leagues
Alternative Winner: Jim Ross: Under The Black Hat
Did anyone actually read Ross’ book? If you’ve read both, there is simply no comparison. A Pavlovian vote here if ever I’ve seen one.
Best Pro-Wrestling Documentary
Actual Winner: Dark Side of the Ring – Owen Hart
Alternative Winner: The Last Ride
Hmmm. Dark Side Of The Ring is obviously very good and the Owen Hart episode is the best episode but The Last Ride is THE seminal wrestling documentary of all time. In this writer’s mind, there is no contest.